Troy University Football

From its origins as a club sport, Troy University football has competed at every level of intercollegiate competition, culminating in its transition to Division I-A, the highest division in college football, in 2001. It has since made numerous post-season appearances, with a 6-3 record in Division I-A bowl games. The Troy Trojans host home games at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy, Pike County. Game-day traditions include the “Trojan Walk” with university cheerleaders, the world-renowned “Sound of the South” marching band, and the popular mascot, “T-Roy.” The team colors are Cardinal, Black, and Silver. Six former Troy players have gone on to play for Super Bowl winners in the National Football League: DeMarcus Ware, Kerry Jenkins, Jerrel Jernigan, Lawrence Tynes, Virgil Seay, and Osi Umenyiora.

In 1909, professor Virgil McKinley established a football program at the small teachers college then known as Troy Normal School. Adopting the nickname the “Teachers,” the initial squad fielded 11 men and competed against local high schools. The team’s first game came on November 5, when it played nearby Luverne High School to a scoreless tie. By 1924, the team had expanded its schedule to include Jacksonville State College, initiating a rivalry that would last the rest of the century. The team also adopted a fully intercollegiate schedule. Financial limitations caused by the Great Depression cast doubt that the college could maintain a football team; the program was suspended in 1929. School officials made a firm commitment, however, in 1931 when they hired former University of Alabama standout Albert Elmore to revamp the football program. Elmore changed the team mascot to the “Red Wave” and provided expert guidance. His leadership propelled Troy to become a perennial contender within the new Alabama Intercollegiate Conference.

After suspending football during World War II from 1943 through 1945, Troy reemerged as a regional contender as it became part of the new National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Continual improvement brought many new opportunities for the football program. In 1948, the Red Wave appeared in its first postseason game, losing to archrival Jacksonville State in the Pensacola Paper Bowl, 19-10. The team also moved into improved facilities in 1950 when university and city officials dedicated the new Veterans Memorial Stadium in memory of Troy students and >Pike County residents who died fighting in the war. As a measure of its rising success, Troy concluded its participation at the NAIA level by going 11-1 and defeating Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University) 43-35 and winning the 1968 NAIA National Championship.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Troy reached major milestones in the development of its football program. In 1971, Troy (then Troy State University) fielded its first integrated squad when Cliff Dunham became the first African American football player in school history. That same year, Troy moved into the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II as a member of the Gulf South Conference (GSC). Two years later, the student body officially adopted the “Trojans” as the university mascot. Trojan football flourished at the Division II level, with six GSC championships. The team’s accomplishments also attracted national attention. Under coach Chan Gailey, the Trojans won the 1984 Division II National Championship when Tom Clem kicked a 50-yard field goal to secure an 18-17 victory against North Dakota State University with time expiring. This momentum continued under the leadership of new coach Rick Rhoades. The team lost in the 1986 national semifinals, but in 1987, propelled by a powerful offense led by All-American quarterback Mike Turk, the Trojans defeated Portland State University 31-17 to claim another national championship.

The early 1990s witnessed Troy’s continued success. In 1991, the university hired Larry Blakeney as head coach, under whom Trojan football negotiated the difficult transition into Division I-AA. In eight seasons at the Division I-AA level, the Trojans appeared in seven playoff games and two national semifinals. Encouraged by these results, university officials decided to move up to Division I-A. On June 3, 1999, the board of trustees approved plans to enter the Division I-A level for the 2001 academic year.

Troy’s inaugural year in Division I-A included games against highly ranked opponents including the University of Miami and the University of Nebraska, which went on to play each other for the 2001 national championship. Despite a daunting schedule, Troy finished the season 7-4, including a 21-9 upset over Mississippi State University. Satisfied with these successes, the university decided to expand Memorial Field and seek a conference affiliation. These decisions resulted in the construction of Veterans Memorial Stadium with a capacity of more than 30,000 fans and Troy State University joining the Sun Belt Conference for the 2004 season. In its first year as a Sun Belt member, Troy won the conference title and received an invitation to the Silicon Valley Bowl in San Jose, California, where the team lost to Northern Illinois 34-21. After a poor conference showing in 2005, in 2006 the Trojans beat Middle Tennessee State University in a game that became known as the “Miracle at Murfreesboro.” Troy scored two touchdowns in the final minutes to win 21-20. The season’s accomplishments were capped off by an invitation to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. In front of a nationally televised audience, the Trojans dominated Rice University 41-17 to win its first bowl game in school history. Since its transition to Division I-A, Trojan football has enjoyed a growing reputation as a “giant killer.” In nationally televised home games, Troy upset Marshall in 2003, seventeenth-ranked Missouri in 2004, and Oklahoma State in 2007, and in 2017 against number 25 Louisiana State University 24-21 in Baton Rouge. In 2014, longtime coach Larry Blakeney (1991-2014) retired as the winningest coach in program history with a 178-113-1 record. The Trojans enjoyed continued success under former offensive coordinator Neal Brown, posting a 10-3 record and top-25 ranking in 2016 and winning three consecutive bowl games from 2016-2018. The program went 11-2 in 2017, 10-3 in 2018, and was tied for the best record in the conference at 7-1 both those seasons. After going 15-19 and missing bowl appearances over three seasons under Chip Lindsey, the Trojans hired Jon Sumrall as head coach in 2022. With Sumrall, the team posted a 12-2 record and won the conference championship against Coastal Carolina University 45-26 and the Cure Bowl against the University of Texas at San Antonio 18-12.

Further Reading

  • English, Van. Beyond the Normal: The Centennial History of Troy State University, 1880-1986. Troy, Ala.: Troy State University Press, 1988.
  • Kaylor, Noel Harold, Jr. History of Troy: The University. Troy, Ala.: Association for Textual Study and Production, 2007.
  • Troy University. “2008 Football Media Guide.” Troy, Ala.: Troy University Sports Information Office, 2008.

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Troy State versus Jacksonville State, 1953

Photo courtesy of Houston Cole Library Archival Collections, Jacksonville State University
Troy State versus Jacksonville State, 1953